Book Review

Book Review: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Tim Keller)

The human ego is an expert attention-seeker. How it usually operates is also profoundly unbiblical. It’s unfortunate how western society now insists that low self-esteem is the contributor to most of an individual’s woes. It’s like a daily courtroom battle where you, the defendant, are constantly fighting for the verdict of You’re the greatest! This is the problem that author Tim Keller addresses in his very short book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, comprised of 44 small pages. This review will be short and sweet as well.

Keller references I Corinthians 3:21 – 4:7 as the source material for his message, as the text contains perfectly chosen words to describe how Christians ought to regard our own opinion, and others’ opinions and attitudes about us in light of the identity we sinfully seek to have in the world.

The book highlights four interesting truths about the human ego to explain why it’s so important to forget ourselves and only look to Christ for our ultimate identity. The first is that the ego is empty, because the natural human heart always seeks an identity apart from God. The ego is also painfulit constantly demands an analysis of how you look, feel, and are. The third concept is that the ego is busy, or as I partially alluded to earlier, constantly drawing attention to itself. That because it craves to be filled, you’re tempted to compare yourself and boast about yourself. And finally, that the ego is fragile. Since the ego is always over-inflated, it is always in danger of becoming deflated as a result of the person failing to measure up to his/her own, or others’ standards.

The solution, Tim suggests, is that we imitate Paul based on those I Corinthians verses. Before expounding on the solution, I want to point out that I think Keller would have done well to clarify that opinions can be valuable to consider, such as your spouse’s, or church leaders’. You really can’t just completely ignore people; there’s a lot of wisdom and growth to be gained from taking heed of others’ Bible-based opinions. I understand why that wasn’t approached in the book since it targets self-identity and not how others’ opinions can help you grow in the Lord; I just hope it doesn’t encourage some readers to utterly blow off those in their inner circles.

Getting back on track, in the I Corinthians passage the apostle Paul teaches that he learned to not care about others’ opinions, or his own! Paul learned instead to revere only that of the Lord Jesus Christ’s. Even that of the courts did not concern Paul, since because of Christ the verdict is already in. A great way of describing the gospel is that the performance doesn’t lead to the verdict, but the verdict to the performance. And indeed therein lies the freedom of self-forgetfulness; not allowing yourself to become like celebrity Madonna (whom the book references) who believes she exists in a constant state of mediocrity and must always strive for that next great Wow! accomplishment so everyone will tell her she’s great and wonderful for a little while. But that is not the way of Christ. The Christian’s identity is vertical, not the least bit dependent on anyone of flesh and bone.

That’s the message of The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, a message straight from the gospel of Jesus Christ that we must remind ourselves of daily. Is your tendency to be devastated by criticism? Do the opinions of others keep you up at night? Do you fear honor? Do you need honor?  Can you celebrate coming in second place, and cheer on the winner? Those questions derived from the ego, and more, are handled well in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.


Book Review: The Hole in Our Holiness (Kevin DeYoung)

Where have all the Christians striving to be holy disappeared to? Why do so many Christians now think it’s old-hat to live a holy life? Somehow it’s become more widely accepted that Christians don’t need to work hard to be like Jesus Christ. This isn’t just a crying shame; it’s depressingly unbiblical. Yet it isn’t surprising, as believers increasingly allow themselves to be absorbed into the world’s system without so much as a second thought. In general, most professing Christians seem to believe that holiness isn’t worth pursuing. The subject has managed to become controversial even, but that didn’t stop author Kevin DeYoung from tackling it in The Hole in Our Holiness. And perhaps best is how Kevin does, as Pastor John Piper quaintly states on the back cover, “This book is vintage DeYoung–ruthlessly biblical.”

Kevin aims to answer three questions in the book:

  • “What does it mean to be holy?”
  • “Why should we care?”
  • “And how can we change?”

Every Christian and every church should ask those questions, and learn the answers well. We must know what it means to be [holy] like God, why it’s critical to care, and what is necessary for us to make progress toward holiness. As written on the book’s inside flap, discussing holiness is more and more important because “too few Christians look like Christ and too many don’t seem all that concerned about it.” Yet after finishing THIOH, I’m refreshed and enthusiastic…not despondent or discouraged, to join DeYoung in what should be the Christian’s response to I Peter 1:14-16.

If you didn’t catch it before, this holiness stuff is controversial. In a world where more and more people, including Christians, call evil good and good evil…Kevin’s arguments and challenges are timely and a necessary wake-up call. At the beginning of THIOH, Kevin compares what he thinks is the general Christian’s attitude toward holiness to what his is toward [outdoor] camping, that it’s for “other people” to do and enjoy. He further suggests that Christians who give up pursuing holiness do so because there seems to be too little return for the investment. Yet any thinking like that about holiness ignores the reality that holiness is the same thing as obeying God! DeYoung even begs us to consider Heaven as a huge reason why Christians should be thirsty for holiness, as Heaven will be a holy place. He asks, “If you don’t like it (holiness) now, why would you then?”

If that isn’t striking enough, the second chapter got me thinking as it lays out the truth that God saves sinners so they will be like Him. And it makes sense, given the explanation [in chapter 7] that Christians are to be who they are….. in Christ! The problem is, as outlined in chapter three, that so many Christians (myself as well) tend to stray toward rule-keeping, generational imitation, generic spirituality, looking for our true selves (silly!), and perhaps worst of all, the world’s system. Instead, as chapter four declares, we should be more like Jesus Christ as the years go by. We should have a life increasingly marked by biblical virtue, and regularly enjoy a clean conscience because we’re in such lock-step with the Savior that our accounts are short with Him and the Spirit’s fruit in us is abundant!

And what of God’s laws (chapter 5)? You can’t really have a conversation about holiness without thinking of the Torah, the Ten Commandments, where God especially describes His character through commands. Yes, Christians absolutely are not under the [Mosaic] law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). However, Kevin makes a very valid point that holiness requires that we know, understand, and obey God’s laws…not as a means to be saved, but to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) You just can’t do that without obeying Him, and we obey by following His laws! You can’t separate love from law, and vice versa. Even the apostle Paul wrote that he wouldn’t have known sin had it not been for the Law (Romans 7:7).

Squirming yet? Well you can relax a bit now. Kevin does encourage us with the fact that Christians actually please God! We don’t do this on our own of course, but because we are in Christ, and God is pleased with Christ, what Christians do is actually capable of pleasing Him! We should remember that [chapter six] point every single day. We should also always remember we can’t do anything, let alone be holy, without the Spirit’s power, the gospel truth, and faith in Jesus Christ (chapter 7). And on the flip side of that, God gave us wonderfully functional minds and bodies so we could work at becoming more holy! Holiness is really a spiritual workout, not something God spoon-feeds us (I Timothy 4:7-8), so it shouldn’t catch Christians by surprise that becoming more holy isn’t exactly easy! Yet the rewards, the spiritual dividends are worth every bit of eternity they’re paid into.

The chapter on immorality (8) could have been its own book. You won’t finish that chapter without experiencing some conviction. And I could go on and on discussing the book, but you probably get the idea of what The Hole in Our Holiness brings to the table by now. We need its every challenge, encouragement, and wake-up call.

Kevin’s message is essentially that holiness requires a close relationship with the Savior (chapter 10). It requires taking seriously God’s demands that we be like Him. And it takes great courage and boldness to practice personal separation from the world and its God-less system (I John 2:16). If you’re a believer that’s convinced it’s time to care more about really following…really obeying the God who created and saved you, please pick up a copy of The Hole in Our Holiness as soon as possible and prepare for an intense look at your heart. You need it, just like I did.

Book Review: Just Do Something (Kevin DeYoung)

Most Christians ask, “What is God’s will for me?” at some point in their lives. It certainly isn’t wrong to ask that question; Christians should care about God’s will, but it is wrong when pondering it and/or looking for it causes the believer to take eons to make what really should be simple decisions. The millennial generation especially has seemed to master the art of agonizing over the litany of life’s questions, significant or small, and Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach To Finding God’s Will is an excellent tool that can help you get back on the proper decision-making track.

It’s impressive how, with such an intimidating subject matter that can be very difficult to dissect, Kevin manages to present a great number of effective illustrations and straightforward trains of thought to help us understand God’s will better and think more biblically about it. Kevin suggests that Christians waste immeasurable, unrecoverable amounts of time waiting for God to show them the way, and spend sadly little time actually doing anything. I tend to agree with that. Kevin makes it clear that God has a plan for each of us, but that it isn’t God’s plan for us to know that plan in its every detail. And it shouldn’t surprise us that because Christians want to know, we’re driving ourselves nuts choosing what to have for breakfast, or where to live.

DeYoung covers a variety of topics in Just Do Something, beginning with how the realities of God and His character actually shape the carrying out of His will (ch.2). He moves on to emphasizing reasons why believers want to know God’s will (ch.3), why some reasons are wrong (ch.4) how we should handle following God’s will (ch.5), the ways Christians manage to make decision-making such an arduous process (ch.6), suggestions for practical actions to take and avoid in disseminating God’s will (ch.7), how to apply biblical wisdom (Scripture, counsel, and prayer) to decision-making (ch.8), and much more. And I knew Kevin wouldn’t fail to nail me in my struggle of being a timid, analytic second-guesser with tainted emotions. Thanks for that brother.

Don’t misunderstand though. Kevin’s goal is never to encourage doing whatever comes to mind at any time regardless of the potential consequences, and he doesn’t do that. He absolutely does advocate, as he should, for Christians to apply Scriptural truth and principles when making certain decisions. The key there is certain. When it comes to non-moral matters such as where to live or attend college, what career path to take, whether to buy or rent, whether to serve your church in this way or that way, etc, God is never going to write in the sky what He ultimately determined for you. Almighty God did, after all, give mankind a fully functional brain to make choices.

Yet reality is that Christians in general don’t make decisions well, myself included. We want our ducks all in a row. We don’t want to take risks. We simply like to know if it’s what God really wants, and what the long-term ramifications will be. The problem is if that was reality, we wouldn’t depend on God at all, let alone fully. We would lean on our own understanding, not that of the God who knows past, present, and future, and predestined what He knows is best for each of us. Kevin pounds this home in each chapter, and I appreciate the necessary reminders. And of course he never fails to supplement the book’s great content with his trademark humor, and personal anecdotes. Apparently Kevin’s grandfather has influenced him much in this area, because you’ll encounter him several times throughout JDS.

In the end, while some of Kevin’s claims are perhaps debatable, overall I think he’s spot-on with his theology about what God’s will is, and how Christians ought to be walking in it. So, if you’ve wanted to understand better what in fairness is a difficult concept, Just Do Something is a very good resource that sheds further light on the teachings of Scripture. Is it God’s will that you read it? Well, that’s for you to decide.

Book Review: Crazy Busy (Kevin DeYoung)

Several Sundays ago, despite never having heard the name Kevin DeYoung, I was delighted to see the bulletin announcement for our church’s January 2014 men’s leadership breakfast series. It detailed that we’d be using Kevin’s latest book, Crazy Busy, to help us broach a topic that precious few seem to know how to effectively. I thought, “Wow, this sounds perfect for our [busy] guys!” I was eager to purchase my copy from our assistant pastor, along with the study guide, and I’m about to complete my second read-through. Sinful busyness is a topic about which we need to be challenged and encouraged.

The book is divided into three sections: three dangers about busyness to avoid (chapter 2), seven diagnoses to consider for why you’re busy (chapters 3-9), and a conclusion that encourages believers to absolutely do one thing to get on the road to being biblically busy instead (chapter 10). After all, it’s not bad to be busy. But why you are is of utmost importance, because sinful busyness will inevitably tear you apart spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Crazy Busy can help you see your schedule differently. Each chapter is an easy read. You won’t necessarily relate to every issue Kevin tackles (chapter 6 is intended for parents), but every page contains comments that will challenge your mind and encourage you to reconsider the choices you’re making regarding your daily and weekly agendas.

The main reason Crazy Busy instantly drew me in is that Kevin doesn’t try to hide his own failures when it comes to how he’s had, and sometimes still has, a crazy busy life for the wrong reasons. From the onset, Kevin makes no bones about the fact that he wrote Crazy Busy especially for himself, and also as his best attempt to cause us to think about the biblical ramifications of being an unbiblically busy Christian. I always appreciate when Christian authors don’t act as though they’ve arrived regarding what they write about. He also never suggests to have composed Crazy Busy to be a magic bullet manual on how to cure sinful busyness. He’s not capable of that, and makes it clear immediately. In fact, he hilariously mocks one book in particular that tries to do just that. His well-timed, gentle sarcasm and jokes about being a laboring American Christian are a breath of fresh air to me. Often as I read through the 118 pages, I thought… “Wow, this guy is the real deal. He’s not afraid to just say what we often think but hesitate to verbalize or publish in writing for lame fear of being looked at funny or as though we had a mental disorder.”

Content-wise, Kevin does a wonderful job of putting the spotlight on just about every conceivable reason why a 21st-century western Christian would be unbiblically busy. Not everything of course, but the pertinent matters are there. Whether it’s wrestling through a gauntlet of pride manifestations, the sinister belief that all Christians must do everything, the critical concept of establishing and maintaining clear priorities, the dangers of technological addiction and dependence… Kevin has it covered. And there’s no way, if you’re wondering how to tame your own life, that you can read Crazy Busy without coming away with valuable wisdom. It actually reminds me of an adult Sunday School class I sat in at church a few years ago about I Corinthians. One hour in particular, our assistant pastor emphasized that every last thing we do must be Bible-based (I Corinthians 10:31), and Crazy Busy is another helpful extension of that study we shared, obviously in this case from the perspective of Kevin DeYoung.

What stuck out to me the most is how in chapter 5, DeYoung highlights a small portion of Mark 1 to explain how in spite of Jesus being God in the flesh, even He didn’t do everything He possibly could. I wouldn’t be surprised if Christians today (including myself) would criticize Jesus for that; His disciples did after all. But God gave Him a mission, and our Savior stuck to it. The reality is that no Christian is Christ, and the sooner that we realize that we can’t be…nor does God expect us to be, the better. Kevin does very well to explain how this truth applies to us in our sin-cursed daily living.

I’m looking forward to covering this book in my church’s Men’s Leadership Breakfast series. The accompanying study guide is available at the book’s website for free, and we’ll be using it for sure. We need to discuss what Kevin does about sinful busyness just as frankly, and encourage each other toward actual change! It’s exciting to anticipate how God’s grace will do this not just in each of us breakfast participants, but in every believer who reads Crazy Busy.